Film Review: David Lynch: The Art Life

David Lynch: The Art Life

Told by the subject’s own voice, David Lynch: The Art Life is an entertaining insight into Lynch’s life and art.

Before he was a filmmaker, David Lynch was an artist. This documentary captures his early childhood memories up to working on Eraserhead, charting his interest in art and how this impacted his life…

David Lynch: The Art Life is an entertaining and informative documentary. Lynch provides narration for the piece, giving a stamp of approval to proceedings. Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s film combines this narrative with images from Lynch’s childhood, his early exploration into films, and of course a look at his art work.

The film paints Lynch as an artist first and foremost; his foray into films is depicted as almost accidental. Starting from early childhood memories, the subject discusses his family life, how he became engaged in art, his adolescence and early adulthood. The film covers a pivotal period in his life, ending at the making of Eraserhead. By doing so, the filmmakers are effectively saying ‘and the rest is history’. For Lynch fans, this makes perfect sense. The documentary reveals a time in his life that is not widely known, and gives some insight into the background to his successful film career.

The filmmakers view Lynch through his art work; it is the gaze through which they depict their subject. The context to his art will be interesting for fans and casual viewers alike. More amusing are the anecdotes that Lynch provides on his life at that period – these are frequently funny. Filmmakers do touch on the darkness, or peculiarity to his work, but this is discussed in the odd comment rather than being a focal point.

The film is well edited, and uses some of Lynch’s own songs as a soundtrack. As anyone who has viewed his art or seen his films will know, Lynch is a very interesting subject. Although not a definitive documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life does him justice.

David Lynch: The Art Life is being screened at London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: Ballast

Ballast is an impressive debut from director and writer Lance Hammer. Despite its simple narrative, the film successfully generates a memorable atmosphere.

Single parent Marlee and her teenage son James struggle financially living in a small Mississippi Delta town. When a tragic incident occurs, they must co-exist with a face from the past, who has been deeply effected by the tragedy…

Ballast features an excellent beginning sequence that sets up the rest of the film. This introduction provides the audience with a sense of mystery; what occurs is only made clear later in the film. The sequence establishes a cold and distinct tone that permeates the rest of the film. It is a beginning that successfully absorbs viewers.

As much is derived from the silence as it is from the dialogue in Ballast. Lawrence is not forthcoming in conversing; his melancholy is depicted through his subdued mannerisms and reluctance to engage. Ballast focuses on themes of emptiness and isolation. Set in the Mississippi Delta, both Lawrence and Marlee live isolated existences; living away from others and bereft of a sense of community. In Marlee’s case, the effect of this isolation in more pronounced in her son James. Lacking friends of his own age and a father figure, James instead hangs out with drug dealers. The loneliness of his existence is made acute through Marlee’s ignorance of his issues. It is not that she doesn’t care; Marlee is too busy working to see what is going on with her son. The story told in Ballast is by no means extraordinary; it illustrates issues that face those living in similar areas.

Performances are good overall, especially as Hammer has used an amateur cast in the film. Micheal J. Smith Sr. brings an awkwardness to Lawrence that is very believable. Tarra Riggs conveys the frustration and stress of Marlee, while JimMyron Ross is adequate as James. The teenager is a character to both sympathise with and be frustrated by; Hammer makes this clear with a tempered depiction of him.

It is the cinematography and sound that most effectively generate an atmosphere in Ballast. The camera work is voyeuristic, with multiple shots peering through doorways or looking over the shoulder. This gives the impression of observing the action, rather than encroaching on it. Colours are subdued, looking almost desaturated. The subtle use of sound is excellent, particularly the low monotonous buzzing of the refrigerator and other machines. This eeriness evokes shades of Eraserhead.

The slow pace of Ballast will not me to everyone’s taste, but the film masters the understated. Ballast deserves its long-awaited cinematic release.